Experts fear spike in waterborne diseases in Karachi's residents

Updated 23 Sep 2020

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Experts also feared a spike in mosquito-borne ailments if sewage from overflowing gutters and accumulated rainwater still standing in many parks and playgrounds was not drained out. — AFP/File
Experts also feared a spike in mosquito-borne ailments if sewage from overflowing gutters and accumulated rainwater still standing in many parks and playgrounds was not drained out. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Waterborne diseases and skin infections are on the rise mainly due to prevailing unhygienic conditions and supply of contaminated water to many parts of the city. It is time that the government addresses these chronic issues for good and plans preventive health strategies.

This was stated by doctors talking to Dawn regarding the outbreak of post-monsoon diseases.

There were also typhoid cases, they pointed out, mostly involving children, often showing signs of multidrug resistant (MDR) typhoid. Its treatment was extensive and costly, they added.

They also feared a spike in mosquito-borne ailments if sewage from overflowing gutters and accumulated rainwater still standing in many parks and playgrounds was not drained out.

The number of people with respiratory diseases is also on the rise because of dust pollution

“Thirty to 40 per cent of cases that I examine in the outpatient department (OPD) daily pertain to waterborne diseases, particularly gastroenteritis and skin infections,” said Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, a senior general physician in Keamari, also representing the Pakistan Medical Association.

“The rise in the number of such patients indicates that the government hasn’t yet taken notice of the city’s fragile sewerage system, which collapsed during last month’s devastating rains,” he said, highlighting the need for replacing the city’s obsolete sewerage and water lines to prevent water contamination.

Dust pollution

Sharing similar concerns, Dr Altaf Khatri, a senior general physician running a private clinic in Lyari, said his daily OPD also included a high number of patients with respiratory diseases. A major reason behind this was increasing dust pollution, he added.

“These people could barely make ends meet and are troubled more in crisis-like situations. The good news is that the government can support them by planning and enforcing preventive strategies in the health sector, including routine immunisation and creating awareness about basic hygiene,” said Dr Sajjad Ahmed Siddiqui, who also runs a health facility in an underprivileged area.

He said: “Most roads and streets in the city have been badly damaged in rains. This is not only obstructing smooth flow of traffic, but also contributing to the polluted environment.”

Physicians like Dr Khatri and Dr Siddiqui operating in slum areas of the city often rely on symptomatic treatment, considering financial constraints of their patients.

According to Dr Siddiqui, prevention in the health sector not only reduces burden on tertiary care hospitals, improves quality of care and public health, but also contributes directly to the economy.

“The bad news is that there is no concept of prevention in our healthcare system. In this area, we should learn from countries like Rwanda — one of the smallest countries in African mainland that saw years’ of conflict and the tragedy of 1994 genocide — which has made tremendous progress in improving health status of its population,” he said.

Preventive strategies, the experts said, were started at the grass-root level in communities for which it was important to strengthen the primary healthcare system.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2020